We continue familiarizing ourselves with all these teams at the start of the season, with a focus on TOR/MIA, GSW/DEN, HOU/MEM, ATL/ORL, plus some smaller notes on the Spurs, Pacers, Thunder, and Pistons.
Plus, Friday Daily Duncs.
Friday Daily Duncs
The Pistons are investigating assistant general manager Rob Murphy over an allegation of workplace misconduct involving a former female employee, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Hopefully, the investigation will produce a just outcome.
James Edwards III of The Athletic profiled Murphy in August.
LeBron James drew attention to the Lakers’ lack of quality 3-point shooting after they shot 10-for-40 (25%) from beyond the arc in their season-opener.
Well, they shot even worse – 9-for-45 (20%) – in a loss to the Clippers last night.
“Our ballclub is our ballclub, and I’m definitely not going to sit here and harp on what we can’t do every single game. That’s not a leader. What I know we can do: We can defend our ass off. And we did that tonight, which gave us an opportunity to win, and we just couldn’t make it happen. But, I’m OK with that.”
LeBron both tries to be a good leader and sometimes makes passive-aggressive comments. In this case, he has already made his point. The Lakers’ roster has a crucial flaw, particularly for a LeBron team. The front office heard that. Not much else to be done at this moment.
At some point, LeBron might try to accelerate the Lakers’ trade timeline or reiterate what he wants a trade to accomplish.
But for now, LeBron is seemingly settling into trying to win games with the teammates he has.
Russell Westbrook said coming off the bench in the Lakers’ preseason finale “absolutely” could have contributed to his hamstring injury.
“First and foremost, let me be clear with this. The Lakers, myself, my staff – we in no way, shape or form would ever put anybody – a player, an employee – in harm’s way, be it physically, mentally, spiritually. We don’t stand for that. We’re not about that. That’s not who we are.”
Ham said he and Westbrook had a “brief discussion.”
“We moved on. We’ve got an understanding. And again, as the coach of this team, my staff and I, we’re going to do what’s best for our team to be as successful as it can be. And I’ll just leave it at that.”
Ham was hired in part for his ability to hold players accountable. Westbrook is a different challenge. But Ham sounds resolute.
“You have to be prepared to do whatever your team needs you to do,” he added. “And that’s called being a professional. So, however we choose to use him, there has to be a willingness there to sacrifice for your teammates and the overall good of the team if that course of action is going to lead to success.”
The true test will come if Ham decides bringing Westbrook off the bench would be better for the Lakers. And, really, we might not know if that happens. We’ll know only if Ham follows through. Assuming the coach does, we’ll see how Westbrook buys in – and how Ham responds if Westbrook makes more waves.
But for now, Ham can call this latest issue quashed.
Which of Luka Doncic’s Mavericks teammates has been the best player? Kristaps Porzingis set the bar while fizzling, which says something about the bar. I’d say Jalen Brunson last year.
Tim Cato of The Athletic analyzes whether it might be Christian Wood.
Wood isn’t even starting for Dallas. But he’s darned talented and, as Cato details, has already shown nice chemistry with Doncic. That seems sustainable given the multiple ways Wood can attack the pick-and-roll. If Wood defends a little better – I believe he’s capable – this pairing could really work.
Danny’s pick for biggest surprise player – Grizzlies forward Santi Aldama – looks pretty good. Starting at power forward with Jaren Jackson Jr. out, Aldama scored 18 points on 3-of-8 3-point shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds in Memphis’ season-opening win over the Knicks on Wednesday. The Grizzlies outscored New York by 18 in his 39 minutes (and got outscored by 15 in the other nine minutes).
Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal looked deeper into Aldama’s performance, including how the slender Aldama held up defensively against the burlier Julius Randle.
Want more Victor Wembanyama hype? David Aldridge of The Athletic talked to six NBA personnel people about the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft and delivers plenty.
My favorite quote:
It’s not just his skill. It’s the flexibility he moves with. It’s incredible. It’s like seeing a giraffe, but a giraffe that’s moving like a completely different animal. And you’re going: ‘Wait a minute; that’s a giraffe, it’s supposed to move slowly.’ And, meanwhile, it’s like this giraffe that’s a predator. The giraffe is hunting you. And you’re going wait, what? It’s something we’ve never seen before.
It’s also interesting how Aldridge’s sources seem divided on how to best deploy the 7-foot-4 Wembanyama defensively.
One: “He’s not a switch defender; he’s a drop guy.”
Another: “He slides and moves so well, if they put him in pick-and-roll, he can switch. There’s not a lot of fives in our league that can do that.”
A third: “He’s a four. He’s not going to be able to guard threes out on the perimeter all the time.”
A fourth: “No one that big is going to stay in front of prime-time NBA guards consistently out on the perimeter. But he has enough lateral movement — it’s probably the best I’ve ever seen in anybody that big – that he’ll surprise you from time to time on some stuff out there. But the great equalizer, if you blow by him, you talk about some guys that’ll be looking over their shoulder as they’re going to the basket. You could beat him, and he could be at the free-throw line, and he takes one step and he’s pinning the thing.”
A fifth: “If whoever he gets drafted by ever had some type of conception of utilizing a zone? Can you imagine having a backline (with him) – or maybe even putting him in the top of defenses, trying to see over this albatross of a player?”
Pick swaps have become the rage as teams look to circumvent the Stepien Rule, which prohibits trading future first-round picks in consecutive drafts. Pick swaps allow teams to convey value in consecutive future drafts by retaining a first-rounder every other year, albeit a lower first-rounder.
Think of pick swaps, and the first one that comes to mind is probably Celtics-Nets in 2017. As a condition of the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade four years earlier, Boston swapped its first-round pick (No. 27) for Brooklyn’s (No. 1). The Celtics traded down to No. 3 and picked Jayson Tatum, who has developed into a star and left the Nets (and 76ers, who moved up to get Markelle Fultz No. 1) looking foolish.
But pick swaps don’t usually work like that.
Zach Kram of The Ringer dug into the history of pick swaps and found most don’t even get exercised. He determined the average value of a first-round pick swap is the No. 36 pick.
Kram’s research and presentation are certainly useful. Read his article, and you will be more informed.
But I think he underplays the upside of pick swaps. The draft – and therefore, draft picks – are about upside. For many teams, the draft is the best – maybe only – way to get a franchise-changing star. That’s more likely to happen high in the draft.
A high second-rounder might have the average value of a pick swap. But only an unprotected pick swap has that limitless upside. That carries significant value.
At some point, successful teams have all hit big on a player. Moderately positive moves aren’t enough. You can keep hitting singles. But in a league with 29 other teams, some of them will hit home runs and surpass you. If you want to get to the top, you sometimes have to swing for the fences – even if you’re more likely to strike out.
You probably know LeBron James will soon pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s all-time scoring record. Do you know how many points Abdul-Jabbar scored? I sure didn’t.
Finding an excellent angle on such a well-covered storyline, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times looked into how few people know the number and why that is. This is a really cool article.
After reading it, I can tell you Abdul-Jabbar’s career scoring mark is 38,387 – a number I’m sure to forget by tomorrow.
Rudy Gobert/Karl-Anthony Towns
Nikola Jokic has become an All-NBA mainstay at center. Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis are likely All-NBA players when healthy, which isn’t always. Often, it feels like one spot is left for Rudy Gobert or Karl-Anthony Towns. In fact, Gobert or Towns – but never both – have made All-NBA each of the last six years.
Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic explored how Gobert and Towns viewed each other while foes and now teammates with the Timberwolves.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo actually played a small role on the Bucks last season as a defensive specialist on the wing, helping to shed the image he’s in the NBA only because he’s Giannis Antetokounmpo’s brother.
But good luck convincing anyone now.
Video caught Thanasis picking Giannis’ nose before Milwaukee’s win over the 76ers last night.
In defense of Thanasis, it wasn’t a deep pick. He did the ol’ thumb-out move. Though technically a pick, that’s barely more than a scratch.
In prosecution of Thanasis, it was someone else’s nose!
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